Toronto’s Greektown, known for bustling patio culture, becomes site of mass shooting

The Canadian Press
July 23, 2018
By The Canadian Press
Toronto’s vibrant Greektown neighbourhood is best known by locals for its for bustling patios, a massive summer food festival and a plethora of dogs and strollers clogging sidewalks. It features spectacular views of the Toronto skyline, was famously home to late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, and was referenced in the Barenaked Ladies song, “The Old Apartment.”

On Sunday, it became globally known for a shooting that killed two and injured 13 others. Authorities said the suspected gunman fled the area on foot and was later found dead with a gunshot wound.

The horrific eruption of violence took place in an area known for family-friendly bars, restaurants and businesses, Howard Lichtman, a spokesman for the upcoming Taste of the Danforth festival, said Monday.

Its eclectic mix of ice cream shops, parks, cafes, and burger joints has made it much more than just a hub for the city’s Greek immigrants who originally gave the east-end stretch its name decades ago, he says of the area, a haven for gyros, tzatziki and souvlaki, but also sushi and Ethiopian injera and kitfo.

Even those who have never visited will likely recognize the impressive views it offers of downtown Toronto, with films including the 2013 romantic comedy “The F Word” showcasing a majestic skyline shot from the neighbourhood’s western boundary, next to the Don River.

In a tweet Monday morning, the Barenaked Ladies’ former singer Steven Page recalled his nostalgic ode to a house in the area, also known as the Danforth.

From his verified account, the crooner said he lived in the area for 25 years, and it’s where his kids live today: “What an awful, violent year for Toronto.”

Movie star Jay Baruchel also tweeted his sorrow, noting on his verified Twitter feed: “A few years ago I chose to move to the east end of Toronto, first to East York and then the beach. Every day I’ve been reminded why I made that choice. I truly love it here. What happened on the Danforth last night was ugly, opportunistic barbarism.”

Montreal band Arcade Fire, who played a show across town in the city’s west end last night, said they heard about the shooting when they got off the stage, adding they were “sending all our love to those affected.”

And the Winnipeg-born star and writer of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” chimed in with her support for the area: “My heart is with all in Toronto’s Greektown,” Nia Vardalos said from her verified account.

“We filmed MyBigFatGreekWedding 1&2 in Greektown and were treated and greeted with love and affection. My condolences are with all today and I hope the streets are packed tonight in defiance of fear and in solidarity of family and love.”

Social media tributes also poured in from Jann Arden, former “Suits” star Patrick J. Adams and interior designers and TV personalities Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan.

The colourful neighbourhood offers a unique mix of old and new, says Lichtman, noting the area has evolved dramatically as young professionals snapped up houses in the area’s leafy sidestreets, steps from the crosstown Bloor subway line.

Markers of its historical Greek identity include an Alexander the Great statue and public square, St. Irene Greek Orthodox Church, and various regional associations, although Greektown has also been home to sizeable Chinese, Italian, South American, Pakistani and Serbian pockets, according to Statistics Canada.

One of its best known cultural hubs is the Danforth Music Hall, previously a silent film venue and later a Greek language theatre. It’s now one of the city’s most frequented performance stages, with past hot tickets including an intimate acoustic set by Justin Bieber in 2015, and Daniel Caesar’s five-show run late last year. Meanwhile, film shoots there have included the period musical “Chicago” and the New York-set disco drama “54,” according to the neighbourhood business association.

Lichtman says the Danforth strip has always been considered safe, and welcoming.

“It’s the kind of street where on a Sunday night, because of all the great restaurants, people are walking around, they’re sitting at patios, it’s a place you really truly enjoy the summer,” he said.

“You walk in the street and people nod and smile, that’s the kind of neighbourhood that it is.”

The tragedy comes just 12 days before the next Taste of the Danforth festival, a massive weekend street party that Lichtman says typically draws 1.6 million people. The annual summer blowout is known as a safe, friendly bash, but he expected organizers would meet with police in coming days.

“We always have a security plan for the festival, there’s always a large contingency of police here, we always have a large private security as well,” Lightman said of the fest, which runs Aug. 10 to 12.

“Of course, we’ll meet with them again and speak with them and find out if they wanted to do anything differently.”

- Cassandra Szklarski

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2018

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